• Published 11th Nov 2011
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The Sweetie Chronicles: Fragments - Wanderer D


Sweetie Belle must find Twilight by travelling through different Fanfic worlds...

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The Light Never Goes Out

The Sweetie Chronicles: Fragments

By Wanderer D

Editors & Proof-readers: understatedHyperbole, Magical Trevor & Fifth Alicorn, BrianBlessedPony & Cards Lafter

o.o.0.o.o

Sweetie’s eyes were stuck on the reflection in the mirror. Instead of her normal appearance, the mare that looked back at her was, well, taller. Her eyes were the same color, but her horn was longer and... her mane... and... she looked at her flank.

Aw. No Cutie Mark?!

“Who are you?!” Rarity’s voice was cracking with fury and pain as she glared at the mare in front of her, drawing Sweetie’s attention away from the mirror. “How dare you use her face? Do you not have any shame? No Respect? A sense of decency?!”

Sweetie Belle stepped back, looking at Rarity in confusion. “S-sis? What’s wrong?”

“Don’t you dare call me that!” the elder unicorn shook her head, tears welling in her eyes and her voice breaking. Magic enveloped her horn, and soon the fire poker she had dropped earlier was being waved dangerously close to Sweetie’s face. “Why do you torture me? Who are you? Is Discord free again? Did he create you to punish me? Is this one of his sick little games?!”

“I- I don’t know! Isn’t Discord a statue again?” Sweetie stumbled backwards as the tip of the poker hovered in front of her. “Sis... why are you acting like this?” she asked, shaking.

“Silence!” Rarity growled. “Don’t call me sister! My Sweetie is dead!” She glared at Sweetie Belle. “I never expected anypony would use her face to get to me...” Her eyes narrowed further. “Is this an attempt to kill the Elements?”

“Kill the Elements?” Sweetie blinked. “But... why would I kill my own sister?” She shook her head violently. “Or my teacher! If something happened to Twilight again...” She shuddered. “And do you know what Scootaloo and Apple Bloom would do to me if I did something to hurt Rainbow Dash or Applejack?”

Rarity shook her head slowly. Her eyes took in the figure in front of her, the coat, the mane... “Y-you have no cutie mark... my Sweetie had her cutie mark.”

Sweetie looked back at her flank, the act reminding her that she was no longer a filly. She looked older, as old as Rarity herself. “This... is so strange...” she gulped. “Sis, this... I don’t know how to explain this. I am Sweetie Belle, just not...” she took a deep breath. “Just not the Sweetie Belle from your world. I’m looking for something, and once I find it, I’ll be gone. I promise...”

Rarity looked at the cowering mare doubtfully, but slowly lowered the poker. “Why should I believe you? We have made many powerful enemies throughout the years, some of them would be able to recreate my sister-” she paused. “If you say you are Sweetie Belle, why should I believe you?”

Sweetie was scared, and her eyes showed it. “Because...” she whispered. “Because I wouldn’t know what else to do... I don’t have anypony to help me...”

“You really don’t know...” The fashion designer shook her head, walking around her ‘sister.’ “I don’t know whether to believe you or not... your voice is the same, your eyes are so much more innocent...”

“Where I come from... I haven’t even earned my cutie mark yet,” Sweetie said with a small smile and a slight nod. “Apple Bloom and Scootaloo haven’t either.” She looked at her much bigger body. “It looks like growing up doesn’t get me one automatically...”

Rarity sat down, her energy drained. “You’re young... so young... but how- why, do you look older now?”

“I don’t know!” Sweetie exclaimed. “I’ve been traveling from world to world trying to find fragments of Twilight... I think one of them will take me home. I’ve only been to two more other worlds before, but I have never been an adult before...”

Sweetie fell silent as Rarity slowly stretched a hoof to touch Sweetie’s face. The filly remained in the same position as her sister’s hoof brushed her mane and then slowly, hesitantly, drew her into a warm hug.

“Sweetie... I’ve missed you.”

“You- you’re not angry?” the younger unicorn asked, but her question went unanswered as Rarity started crying. “Sis?”

These weren’t the dramatic tears or the overdone whining... this was real. Rarity was a mess; her eyes puffy, her nose snotty, her mane in disarray. She sobbed and let the tears flow, soaking Sweetie’s neck and holding the younger unicorn tighter. She didn’t answer at all, she just couldn’t. She cried. And wept. And sobbed. Sweetie held her tight, confused and a bit scared by the muffled “I’m sorry...” she could hear her sister whisper over and over. After a few moments, tears started to run down Sweetie’s eyes as well and she held her sister tighter. She didn’t know why, but she couldn’t stop herself.

They remained like that for a long time. When Rarity was able to pull back and run a hoof over her eyes, Sweetie sniffed as she looked at her sister. “Sis... what happened?”

Rarity coughed as she slowly stood up. “I...” she sighed. “Let us go downstairs... we can discuss things over tea.”

Sweetie nodded and followed her sister out of her room and down the stairs. As they walked, Sweetie looked around, curiously. The building looked older; it was as well maintained as ever, but here and there the paint looked new. There was also no sign of Opalescence. Usually, the white cat would be purring around Rarity at the slightest excuse.

There were many little things that would draw her attention, but it wasn’t until she saw the windows that she noticed they were completely different from what she remembered. They still looked great with the design of the boutique, as Rarity wouldn’t have it otherwise, but they were different. The frames were thinner, for one.

“Sweetie,” Rarity called, startling the younger unicorn, who realized she had been standing at the bottom of the stairs and staring at the room. Sweetie Belle quickly trotted to the table and sat down.

“Sorry, sis, the place looks different...” she trailed off when she noticed that Rarity was levitating a small envelope before her with a sad look in her eyes.

“I-” Rarity closed her eyes as she floated the note towards her younger sister, depositing it on the table in front of the younger unicorn. “I want you to read this... and then I’ll explain.”

Sweetie stared at the envelope. It had been opened and it looked really old. It had only one word written on it. ‘Rarity’

For some reason, she felt a sense of dread coming from the single piece of paper. This is silly... it’s just a note... Sweetie looked up at Rarity, who was dressed in a light blue nightgown with matching cuffs around her fetlocks. She looks so fragile... and tired. Sweetie looked back to the envelope. The slightly yellowed piece of paper seemed to carry an ominous weight to it. Slowly, her horn lit up as she carefully levitated the envelope and opened it, sliding out the simple note inside.

Still fearing the words inside, she forced herself to unfold the note and read.

‘Rarity,

By the time you read this, It will have happened. Please, do not be sad, and do not do anything stupid. I love you, and I always have done, and always will do. Even through every argument we’ve had, I love you. Live your Generous life to its fullest, no matter how long it will be.

Your Loving Sister

Sweetie Belle’

Sweetie slowly lowered the note until it gently lay on top of the table. She stared at it, uncomprehendingly, trying to wrap her mind around the confusing feelings of fear and pity that the simple words had evoked in her.

“I found that a week after you-” Rarity whispered, her voice breaking through Sweetie’s scattered thoughts. The elder unicorn shook her head, unwilling to complete her earlier sentence. “I watched you grow, earn your cutie mark, discover what truly made you happy... I saw you be happy, and touch the hearts of so many...”

Sweetie’s eyes drifted downwards to Rarity’s cuffed hooves, which she self-consciously hid under the table.

“I am immortal, Sweetie,” Rarity said, locking eyes with Sweetie Belle. “We all are... the Elements, I mean.” She shook her head, turning away, not daring to look Sweetie in the eye any longer, lest she break into tears again. “It’s been two hundred years since we freed Princess Luna from Nightmare Moon,” the designer continued. “All six of us have lived our lives since then... we’ve lost so much...”

The pain in Rarity’s voice was so strong... Sweetie Belle had a dawning, horrifying feeling of where this was going, and she didn’t want to bring that much pain to her sister.

Rarity sighed. “But... when I lost you... Sweetie, I-”

“What was I like?” Sweetie Belle interrupted. “Did I have any foals? Who did I marry? What was my cutie mark?”

Rarity stopped and chuckled. “I won’t tell you your cutie mark, or who and if you married...” the elder unicorn said, laughing a bit at the pout her younger sister immediately developed. “But, you became a singer... you sang a great many beautiful songs, about love, about life...” She looked down. “About loss.”

Sweetie’s eyes were wide. “I became a singer? Was I famous?”

Rarity choked a bit, sniffling as she chuckled. “Yes, yes you were, Sweetie.”

The clock marked the time with a short cheerful melody, and both mares looked at it in surprise.

“Oh, my...” Rarity gasped. “Look at the time! We should head to bed... we can talk more in the morning.”

Sweetie Belle yawned, barely remembering to cover her mouth with her hoof. “Y-yeah, I haven’t slept since... I don’t even remember.”

The two mares slowly made their way upstairs. “Rarity?”

The elder mare stopped. “Yes, Sweetie?”

“Could you...” She blushed a bit. “Can I spend the night with you?” She looked down, embarrassed.

Rarity blinked and chuckled. “Aren’t you a bit old for that, Sweetie?”

The younger mare nodded, slowly turning towards her room. “I- I guess. I just... you...”

“It’ll be okay,” Rarity said, running her hoof through her sister’s mane. “Thank you for worrying, Sweetie, I’ll still be here tomorrow.” She looked away for a second. “Always.”

Sweetie nodded and hugged her sister. “Good night, Rarity... I’ll see you in the morning.”

The two mares went into their rooms, but unlike any other night in their lives, they could not bring themselves to close the doors.

As Rarity lay down in bed, she sighed, looking at the other room. Slowly her horn started glowing as feather, ink and parchment floated to her.

Down the hall, Sweetie laid down in bed, silent. Her thoughts were a whirlwind. She had never thought something like this would happen. Her thoughts turned to Rarity, who had seemed so... lost.

At least she has her friends, right?

It was then that she realized that, if she had died of old age... then Apple Bloom and Scootaloo were gone too. The thought hit her like a ton of bricks. She could only stare at the ceiling as tears trickled down her cheeks.

Even if they were from another world, their absence was something that she could not fathom. What had their lives been like? Had they married? Had foals?

She sniffed as she closed her eyes.

Maybe tomorrow she would have a chance to ask Rarity... or maybe even Rainbow Dash or Applejack...

o.0.o

“Applejack!”

Her sister’s voice roused the apple farmer from where she was overseeing her workers sorting and putting the harvested apples away into neatly stacked boxes. “Apple Bloom? What’s goin’ on?”

“Applejack! Help me!” the younger mare shouted.

The elder earth pony was already running towards the orchard, where Apple Bloom’s screams were coming from. She arrived in time; her sister was being pushed towards a deep ravine by a dark green magical field of some sort. Apple Bloom was struggling to stay in place.

Thinking quickly, she tried to lasso her sister, but her rope felt short. She wasn’t going to make it!

“Sis! Help me! Ah’m gonna fall!” the younger earth pony shouted in horror as her rear hooves slipped on the edge of the ravine, sending bits of debris scattering into the darkness.

“Who’s doin’ this?” the apple farmer turned around, looking for the unicorn responsible. Then she saw her. The purple and soft pink mane, the white coat. “Sweetie Belle?” she gasped. “What’re you doin’? That there is Apple Bloom! She’s yer friend!”

A pair of green, slitted eyes locked with Applejack’s own green eyes. “I don’t have friends, Applejack.” The unicorn’s horn flashed and the apple farmer turned in horror to see her sister shoved into the ravine.

“Applejack!” Apple Bloom shouted desperately.

“Apple Bloom!” Applejack shouted back as she ran up to the ravine and looked down. It was so dark, she couldn’t see anything. Her sister was completely gone.

“Why did you do this?” she shouted, tears of anger forming in her eyes as she turned around to confront Sweetie Belle. She took a startled step back when she found herself snout to snout with the white unicorn. Her hooves scrambled for support as she started sliding into the ravine.

“I needed her to die so I could live!” Sweetie Belle grinned, showing rows of fangs, leaning forward for a snake-like tongue to lick Applejack’s cheek.

Applejack stepped back and lost her balance, screaming as she fell into the darkness...

...and landed on the floor next to her bed.

“Oooh...” she moaned as she slowly stood up and blinked at her room. Shaking her head, she looked outside the window.

Celestia hadn’t risen the sun yet, but Luna’s moon wasn’t in sight either, the orchard simply stretched into the horizon in the foggy morning.

“Fifth time this week...” she sighed as she left her room to get ready for the day. She knew she would get no more sleep that night. Tired as she might be, there was work to be done.

As she left her room, her eyes strayed to the chest containing Apple Bloom’s ribbon. She caught her breath, remembering the dream, but the sturdy earth pony shook her head, put on her hat and stepped out.

o.0.o

The sunlight seeping through the window woke her up. Rarity groaned and looked around her room.

“A dream...” she sighed, closing her eyes. “Wonderful and horrible at the same time...” she sniffed. Then sniffed again. “What-”

The fire alarm started ringing.

“A fire?! But... how!?” she rolled out of bed, barely even able to put her hooves down in time, and scrambled down the stairs. “Did I leave the oven on again?” Her hoof slipped on the stair, but Rarity caught herself on the rail just in time. She looked up at the kitchen in horror just as the room-filling smoke began to waft out the now open window. She stared as the purple and pink-maned unicorn in the kitchen groaned in annoyance.

“I hate it when that happens!” Sweetie Belle sighed heavily, her attention focused on the smoldering skillet as she levitated it off the stove. “Just take your eyes off it for one second, and there it goes-”

“Sweetie!” Rarity gasped, the memory of the previous night crashing down on her like cold water. “You- you’re really here!”

Sweetie turned around, eyes wide. “I’m sorry sis! I took off my eyes off the last pancake for just a second and-”

Sweetie feel silent as Rarity’s hooves suddenly wrapped around her. “It’s okay, we can eat out...”

Returning the hug, Sweetie smiled. “It’s fine, sis, that was just the last of the batch. The others are fine.”

Rarity blinked and looked around the kitchen. “But... what others, darling?”

With a grin, Sweetie opened the oven and levitated a plateful of pancakes out. “Princess Celestia’s favorite pancakes!” she proudly announced. “Spike taught me how to make them!”

Rarity’s eyes filled with sadness even as a small smile played on her lips. “I see. Spike was always a fine chef.” She chuckled as she quickly turned around. “Come, let’s set up the table.”

The two worked in silence, enjoying each other’s company despite the feelings boiling within them.

Every time Rarity looked at Sweetie, the long buried memories would float to the surface.

“Sis! I got the part! I get to sing in Manehattan!”

Rarity carefully put a plate down on top of the light green tablecloth.

“I don’t know, does this dress make me look old?”

The forks and knives floated out of their drawer.

“He’s such a gentlecolt, and he invited me to have dinner at Le Bridle! I love fusion cuisine!”

Rarity carefully levitated a pair of glasses, aware that Sweetie was taking out the orange juice.

“Sis, this... I wrote this for Spike... do you think... would you listen to it?”

The silverware was now in place; she had done it mechanically, not even thinking about it.

“He left me... why did he leave me? He said he loved me!”

Rarity sighed. “How do you measure a lifetime?” she whispered quietly to herself.

“Did you say something, sis?” Sweetie asked.

“Oh, nothing important, dear.”

“Oh...” Sweetie smiled hesitantly as the pair sat down. “Rarity?”

“Yes dear?”

“Did you... did you ever marry? Have foals of your own?”

“No...” Rarity sighed. “There was never time with work, Sweetie, you know how I get caught with designing new clothes... and as for family and such... I watched you from afar, living that part vicariously through you...” she trailed off when she noticed her younger sister staring blankly at her. “It means I enjoyed watching you live your life...”

“Ooooh... I see.” Sweetie Belle said as she caught on.

Rarity chuckled as she tried one of the pancakes. Her eyes widened. It was indeed Spike’s recipe. “This... this is amazing, Sweetie! Oh, it brings back so many memories!”

The younger unicorn giggled. “What? Doesn’t Spike make them anymore?”

Rarity drew in a sharp breath. “Sweetie... Spike is... he’s no longer with us.”

“Oh...” Sweetie blinked. “Did he go join the other dragons? Poor Twilight! She must be so lonely without her number one assistant!”

“N-no... Sweetie...” the elder unicorn stammered then collected herself. “Sweetie... Spike... he passed away some years ago.”

All the blood drained from Sweetie’s face. “W-what? But...” As the memories of the little dragon came to her she felt tears forming in her eyes. “But... Spike he... he helped me so much when I became Twilight’s apprentice! He taught me how to look through through the book code and the bookshelves to find what I needed, how to make tea and pancakes... He-” she cut herself off, head hanging low as she sniffled softly. “How did it happen?”

As Rarity slowly began to explain, Sweetie’s mind was busy thinking about her own Spike.

I haven’t thought of him in a while... could he have died when I destroyed the lab?

Sweetie’s thoughts seemed to reflect on her face as Rarity slowly stopped talking and observed her sister’s darkening expression.

I don’t remember how strong the explosion was... but- it seemed strong... could the library have survived it? Did Spike also get trapped in the spell? Could he also be lost in other worlds?

“Sweetie?” her sister’s voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Huh?” Sweetie shook her head. “I- I’m sorry sis. I...”

“Tell me about it,” Rarity said, and her look brooked no argument.

Sweetie sighed. “I’m afraid something might have happened to my Spike...” Slowly she sank down into her seat, pancakes forgotten. “When the lab exploded... Spike was in the other room, right next to it... he could be suffering through the same thing I am. What if he’s lost? What... what if he’s dead, and it’s because of me?” Her eyes slowly raised until they met Rarity’s. “Sis... what if I killed Spike?”

Rarity felt cold. What could she tell her sister? She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Sweetie... I really don’t know what to tell you, but I doubt the explosion would have gotten to him... Twilight’s tree is very old, its roots are strong and thick... and Spike is also very resistant...” she trailed off, remembering the dragon’s mortality all too well. But it seemed to work, as the younger unicorn looked up, sniffing.

“I- I hope so... I think so too...” Sweetie Belle looked unsure. “I’m just afraid, sis... This is the longest I’ve ever been away from home by myself...”

“Oh, Sweetie...” Rarity sighed as she touched her sister’s hoof. “I know how you feel. But you are not alone, and you should know that... for every world you visit, you’ll always have me. Always.”

Sweetie Belle’s small smile played around the corners of her mouth.

Rarity nodded. “Now, let us eat these wonderful pancakes before they get too cold!”

“Oh! Right!”

Watching her sister start to eat, Rarity smiled.

After the pair finished eating and cleaning up, they stepped outside, admiring the clear skies and warm weather.

“You were right, sis. This is too good a day to waste inside!”

As they trotted down the street, Sweetie took her first look of future Ponyville. The town itself looked pretty similar to what it was before. She could see the Sugarcube Corner, the City Hall, and a little behind it, looking taller than before, Twilight’s Library.

“Wow, this place hasn’t changed much in two hundred years!” Sweetie exclaimed, as she looked back at Carousel Boutique. “I expected flying machines and teleportation devices.”

“You think?” Rarity chuckled. “Look around and tell me what else looks familiar?”

Sweetie followed her sister’s advice. “Heeey... that pony over there looks familiar... and... and that one and... wait... those eyes...”

Rarity’s smile only grew as Sweetie’s eyes found more and more ponies that looked somehow familiar. “Want to guess who’s who?”

“But...” the younger unicorn turned around. “There’s so many... that one has Pinkie Pie’s hair... and that one looks just like she does, but the colors are wrong and... just... how many...”

Rarity leaned in close and whispered in Sweetie’s ear.

“WHAT?! HOW?”

“It’s really fun!” Pinkie Pie said. “But it requires some preparation!”

Both Rarity and Sweetie immediately scrambled back from the suddenly appearing pink earth pony, holding their hooves to their chests.

“P-Pinkie!” Sweetie stammered. “Don’t do that!”

“Why? It’s fun!” the earth pony replied, bouncing up to her. “Hey... You look familiar!” she gasped, then looked towards Rarity, who was slowly approaching Sweetie. “Oh. My. Celestia! Rarity! You had a filly and you never told us?! Wow! I mean... how were you able to keep this a... I mean... WOW! I missed all her birthdays!”

“But Pinkie... she-”

“And she looks, what? Eighteen? So I have to organize a party to make up for eighteen years! Or maybe eighteen parties!” Pinkie Pie turned around to leave.

“No!” Rarity shouted, drawing the attention of several ponies passing by, but having the desired effect of getting Pinkie to freeze in place. “No...” the fashion designer repeated softly. “This is not my daughter, Pinkie Pie. It’s Sweetie Belle.”

The smile slowly faded from Pinkie’s face.

“Oh...” she looked at Sweetie, then back to Rarity. “Can I talk to Sweetie for a moment? In private?”

Before Rarity could reply, the pink pony had dragged the younger unicorn away and behind the Carousel Boutique.

“Okay, I want to know now what you are doing and why you are doing it!” Pinkie demanded with an unusually intense look in her eyes.

“Uh...” Sweetie shuffled back a bit. “I... really am Sweetie Belle, but I came from another dimension and appeared in a full adult body in the middle of the night inside the Boutique and Rarity is going to help me get back home.”

During the explanation the pink pony’s eyes had narrowed, her form towering over Sweetie’s, who had slowly shrunk down under the intensity of Pinkie’s glare.

Then, just as suddenly, Pinkie Pie’s eyes shone happily.

“Okie dokie lokie!” Pinkie said, with a big smile. “I just had to double check! Welcome to Ponyville! Again!” The pink pony started bouncing around Sweetie. “You know what this calls for? A party!” She stopped suddenly with a surprised look of realization in her face. “Oh! Oh! But it should be a surprise for everypony!”

Sweetie smiled. “I love parties!”

“I remember!” Pinkie laughed. “Okie dokie! I’ll see you tonight!”

Sweetie watched the earth pony bounce away and sighed.

“Well, that went well,” Rarity said.

“Aaaaaah!” Sweetie shouted in alarm, jumping up into the air.

Rarity followed Sweetie up with her eyes, then followed her descent until she landed next to her.

“Why would you do that?!” Sweetie moaned. “First, Nightmare Moon, then Pinkie Pie, and now you!”

“Nightmare Moon?” Rarity blinked. “Just what sort of ponies have you been hanging around with, Sweetie?”

“You’d be completely horrified,” the younger unicorn sighed.

Rarity chuckled, her eyes softening as she looked at her sister. “Come, let’s show you around.”

Sweetie slowly followed her sister, barely taking in her surroundings. “Hey, sis?”

The fashion designer stopped. “Yes, Sweetie?”

“Back home... you didn’t use to want to hang out that much... how come now-”

Sweetie cut herself off as Rarity’s shoulders sagged and she motioned with her head towards a bench overlooking the park.

Once they’d sat down, Rarity began slowly. “Sweetie... have you ever heard the expression ‘we never know what we have until it’s gone’?”

“Yes,” Sweetie Belle replied as she thought back to her home... her real home.

If Spike had survived, would he have told everypony what happened? Would her sister hate her for killing her best friend?

Unbidden her mind conjured up a scene...

The land was gray, the wind cold and the sun setting... and there stood Rarity in front of three graves...

Tears slowly accumulated in her eyes. “Yes...” she repeated in a whisper. “I know the expression.”

Rarity’s smile was a bit pained as her hoof and foreleg went over Sweetie’s shoulders. “I know it too well... but back then, I didn’t... I let so many opportunities pass... I had work, or I had to meet somepony, or...” She looked down, ashamed. “I simply didn’t feel like it.”

Sweetie remained silent, head hung low.

“It wasn’t that I disliked you...” Rarity found herself a bit defensive. “I loved you more than anything... It’s just... I was being stubborn, and I just didn’t appreciate just how much fun we could have together...”

“Like at the Sisterhooves’ Social?” the younger unicorn ventured.

Rarity looked at Sweetie in confusion, then barked out a laugh. “Oh, yes, the Sisterhooves Social!” She chuckled. “That was enlightening... I never told you just how horrified I was that you would really hate me!”

“I was pretty mad,” Sweetie admitted, remembering. “I really thought you didn’t want me around... but, you really made up for it! I never expected you to take Applejack’s place!”

The pair shared a soft laugh.

“I still can't believe, after all that, I haven't earned my cutie mark yet.” Sweetie sighed.

Rarity chuckled. “Oh, my... Sweetie, don't you remember what we used to say to you and the other Crusaders?”

“That we have to be patient and that we’ll find out eventually.” Sweetie recited in a practised monotone. “But sis, I've done so much!”

“You just haven’t found it yet... you worry too much, Sweetie” Rarity said.

“I just wish I knew what my talent was.”

The older unicorn smiled. “Do you remember that ball I gave you, so long ago?”

Sweetie blinked. “I...”

“When I was about your age...” Rarity blinked and coughed. “Well, the age you really are I mean, I got one just like it. It was a gift from father while I was trying to figure out what to do after getting my cutie mark.”

“You didn't know?” Sweetie asked, raising an eyebrow. “I always thought that from the moment you got your mark you knew...”

Her elder sister laughed. “Oh, no, Sweetie, it wasn't that simple.” She leaned her head to the side as she remembered. “I did a lot of things and learned a lot of trades that ultimately made me who I am, but I didn't know what my talent was...”

“But you knew from the moment you found the gems that you had the talent to find them right?” Sweetie insisted. “I don't even know what I'm good at-”

“Sweetie, you're missing the point,” Rarity interrupted. “There is much more to a Cutie Mark than just having it appear on your flank.”

“There is?”

“Well of course! A Cutie Mark reflects your talent, but what you do with that talent is a completely different matter.”

“Ooooh...” Sweetie blinked. “But what does that have to do with the ball you gave me? I thought you were just being nice.”

Rarity shook her head. “There's more to that ball than it being just a toy, Sweetie.” She smiled a bit sadly. “You never did understand it... shortly after I gave it to you, you took it to the Crusader's head quarters and it got lost.”

Sweetie touched her sister's shoulder with a hoof. “Mine isn't.” When Rarity looked up at her, the younger unicorn smiled. “I still have it. I never took it to the treehouse. Apple Bloom told me it might get ruined by one of Scootaloo's crazy ideas, so I kept it in my room.”

Rarity looked at her sister as if she had grown a second head. “Really?”

Sweetie nodded, looking up towards the sky. “Sometimes... I just hold that ball and lay on top of it... and I wonder... what will I be? Will I be a designer like you? Or a scholar like Twilight? Maybe one of Scootaloo's crazy stunts will backfire and I'll be a fire-fighter...”

Sweetie felt her sister's foreleg wrap around her as Rarity drew her into a hug. “Just keep that ball with you for a while, okay?” Rarity asked. “Even after you find your Cutie Mark.”

“I will, sis,” Sweetie assured her as they separated.

“I know you're really eager to get your mark, Sweetie, but I promise you that you won't be disappointed when you finally do. Just don't do anything too crazy.”

Sweetie giggled. “My friends are too crazy for me to keeping things easy.”

“Do you remember that time that you and Scootaloo and Apple Bloom stayed over for the first night at the Boutique...” Rarity chuckled, “And I couldn’t handle you three and make more gold silk, so I asked Fluttershy to take care of you?”

Sweetie smiled, “Yeah, I remember that night. Did Fluttershy ever tell you that we almost got turned to stone by a Cockatrice?”

“No!” Rarity’s eyes went wide. She shook her head. “You used to get into all sorts of trouble, dear.”

“Like Diamond Tiara’s cute-ceañera?”

“You did the right thing, I had never been more proud of you!”

“Thanks, sis!”

Rarity looked at the sky, her eyes becoming distant. “Or... do you remember that time in Canterlot, after your first singing lesson... you thought you were awful and ran right out of the hall!”

“Um...”

“You had us all worried, we didn’t know where you were and we didn’t really know where to look for you... when it turned out that you had met with Fleur and she had taken you to drink some tea and talk, I was so relieved...”

“Rarity, I...”

“And then, do you remember that time that you went out with Fancypants’ son?” Rarity laughed, caught in the moment. “That was priceless! You two looked so adorable! It’s a shame it didn’t work out in the end, but, just between the two of us, Fleur was already planning the wedding after the first date!” Rarity chuckled. “Oh, how I miss Fleur; she was always so involved...”

“Yes, but-” Sweetie Belle tried to interrupt, but her sister did not hear, Rarity’s eyes filled with both fondness and pain.

I haven’t seen her for three days... Sweetie thought. How would I feel after a hundred or more years?

“Oh, and your first night at the Canterlot Opera! Sweetie that was simply... sublime...” Rarity sighed, eyes shining with remembrance. “And your rendition of the aria in ‘Claro de Luna’...”

“I’m glad you liked it, sis...” Sweetie whispered, resting her head on Rarity’s shoulder as the older unicorn remembered a life the younger had yet to live. She watched the town hustle and bustle around them as she listened to her sister.

“...and then there was that duet with...”

Rarity’s coat was warm and soft, and soon Sweetie was looking at the world through half lidded eyes.

The shampoo Rarity had used was not something she was familiar with... and yet... it held small tinges that reminded her of Aloe’s original creations.

The world began to blur.

Some buildings slowly faded away; others changed their colors to resemble their previous paint jobs. A couple of ponies shimmered in her view and turned into Lyra and Bon-Bon; a prancing colt became Snails and the little filly next to him became Twist.

Sweetie let out a soft sigh as Rarity...talked about something involving her and a violinist.

“I miss home, sis. I miss you.”

o.0.o

Sweetie stared in amazement at the Ponyville Train Station.

It was... different. Quite different from what she remembered.

The train station from the past had been a quaint little building with nothing more than a single platform: a true small-town station.

This... this was on a whole other scale.

She could see multiple lines fading into the distance in all directions, the station itself now comprised of eight platforms.

There was the main line for Canterlot, of course, and the seldom-used line to Appleloosa. But now tracks to Fillydelphia and Manehattan had been added as well, with several stops in towns Sweetie had never heard of.

Rarity smiled at her sister’s surprise. “Want to guess how many trains pass through this station on a daily basis?”

Sweetie slowly shook her head as she took in what had once been nothing more than a simple, but functional structure. Once, a simple entrance had been enough; ponies would cross over to either side via a simple bridge. Now... she could see at least three different entrances. The bridge had been replaced by a long, single-floor building that extended over the eight platforms, overlooking them while magical screens announced the inbound and outbound trains, their destinations and trip durations.

She followed Rarity in a daze to where the ticket booth waited; the pair falling in behind an elderly couple. Sweetie couldn’t tear her eyes away from the work that had been put into the place. It had the characteristic Ponyville architecture charm- eccentric designs for the pillars that held the building above them. There was even a whole wall that seemed to have been taken directly from the Sugarcube Corner...

“Pinkie donated quite a bit to the station,” Rarity explained, following her sister’s gaze. “And so did Applejack and I.”

Sweetie looked around more, noticing that there were themes to some of the platforms. One of them had apple-based designs, with the shelter looking almost like the barn in Sweet Apple Acres.

The Sugarcube Corner platform seemed to have been pulled right out of a fairy tale. Candy canes stood proudly on either side of the staircase leading to the station above, and there was a small pastry stand selling the bakery’s famous cupcakes. Even the platform itself seemed to be made out of gingerbread.

The next was a tribute to Fluttershy’s home and her woodland friends. A small garden had been grown in a line down the middle of the platform, with old tree trunks used for seating; small planted trees gave the whole platform a sense of serenity that contrasted sharply with the constant flow of ponies.

The white platform with purple and blue arches decorating it as well as tastefully selected ribbons clearly indicated Rarity’s influence.

Platform four had a Wonderbolt uniform-like quality to it, with a large depiction of Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark. It was streamlined and slightly aggressive looking. Sweetie’s eyes turned to look at the next platform.

“It used to be very functional and had no decorations at all,” Rarity whispered. “That is until... the night before Twilight left, the statue appeared... we all put something into it... but, it was going to be in the plaza... Twilight... she thought it would fit better here, where ponies came and went.”

Twilight’s platform was simple. It was made of wood resembling a tree, and there was only one decoration. A stone statue of a young dragon, reading a book while seated on a bunch of real gems. On one of his claws he held a half eaten apple, an owl had perched on top of his head gazing down at the book. Just looking at it and the small smile on the statue’s muzzle made Sweetie’s eyes water.

The booth pony coughed politely and both mares turned to look at her, not realizing that they were holding up the line.

“Sorry!” Rarity quickly spoke up, a trembling smile following soon. She looked at the booth pony for a second. “Oh, you’re one of Fluttershy’s grandchildren... Apple Breeze, wasn’t it?”

“Yes ma’am.” The pegasus smiled. “And it is always nice to see you, but we are holding up the line...”

“Oh, I do apologize. Two to Canterlot, please.”

“Would you prefer a private-”

“No...” Rarity interrupted. “We’ll take regular seats.”

Apple Breeze nodded and after a few moments passed them their tickets. “Platform 5 in ten minutes.”

“Thank you!”

Rarity led the way, her eyes settling on several familiar sights as memories billowed to the surface.

Sweetie sighed. Sis... why are you so... alone?

Every stop Rarity made, either to greet a pony or just to contemplate, was laden with nostalgia.

“Sis?” Sweetie ventured. “What are you thinking about?”

Rarity blinked, shaking her head a little. “Oh, Sweetie... I- I was just remembering the time I sent you on your way to Canterlot... it was such a long time ago...”

“I must have been excited...” Sweetie Belle murmured, ignoring an odd look she got from a passerby.

Rarity laughed. “Oh, you were! I took you to the same platform we’re going to... you were very excited at first.” Rarity smiled as she looked down at the rails. “Then, when the train arrived, you didn’t want to get on.”

Sweetie blinked. “What?”

“Well, you just got so nervous!” the older unicorn said, laughing a bit. “It was a completely new experience for you! And so far away from home... and going to the most prestigious school for musicians!”

Sweetie chuckled. “It sounds like a difficult school to get into.”

Rarity nodded, pride shining in her eyes. “It is! The auditions are almost invitation-only, but you managed to get there by yourself. You even turned down Octavia and Fancypants when they offered their help!”

Rarity took a deep, proud breath as she guided the younger mare to their platform.

“It seems silly to get nervous after I managed to get in,” Sweetie said, raising an eyebrow.

“True.” Rarity nodded. “But you were going away from home for a significant amount of time for the very first time...” Her eyes settled on Sweetie, regarding her fondly. “You looked adorable. I’d made you a dress...” Slowly the blue eyes began to shine with tears. “It- it was simple, really. White and fluffy... it had adorable emeralds to bring out your eyes...” The fashionista shuddered, looking away.

“Sis...”

“I’m alright...” Rarity sighed, still not looking back at Sweetie. “It’s just... so many memories,” she closed her eyes. “That was just the first time I sent you to Canterlot... but not the last.” Rarity walked up and down the platform. “Every time was different, but... I was always sad to see you go... always ecstatic when you came back.”

Sweetie nodded, her eyes following her sibling.

“I’ve never forgotten... when we found out that we would live for so long I... I felt that every time you left might really be the last time...” Her eyes went back to Sweetie. “And now you’re here... after so long, after-” she sighed. “After I did what I did... I-” she stopped, looking down at her cuffs.

Slowly Sweetie walked up to her sister and nuzzled her, letting Rarity rest her head on her shoulder.

The pair remained there, silently waiting for the train to arrive.

o.0.o

Sweetie watched the landscape speed past as she lay on the comfortable seat of the train. Her thoughts, however, were not on the scenery.

What should I do? she asked herself. Rarity really misses me, but I have to find Twilight’s crystal... She sighed. I don’t want to leave her alone, but... what about my Rarity? Is she feeling lonely? Does she even know what happened to me?

The motion of the train slowly calmed her nerves. Her eyelids grew heavy as the world beyond the window slid past.

Rarity stood, impassive, watching over three graves.

“Rarity, sugarcube...” Applejack walked up to her, slowing down to a stop at her side, looking at the tombstones. “The other’s are waitin’... you’ve been here all day. It ain’t good fer ya.”

Rarity said nothing. She simply continued looking down at the three mounds. Absently, her magic righted a small white flower that had been stirred by the wind from its position at the side of the others.

Applejack looked down, her eyes tearing up before she forced herself to look straight at Rarity’s face. “I-”

“She was all I had left, Applejack,” Rarity interrupted. She didn’t look away from the grave. “All the family I had left after mom and dad...” her eyes went to the other two graves before closing her eyes.

“Ah know, but-”

“You still have Big Macintosh, Apple Bloom and Granny Smith!” Rarity snapped, turning to look at the apple farmer in rage. “What do you know about being left alone?”

“Ah know what loss feels like, Rarity!” Applejack retorted after taking a surprised step back. “And ah can tell ya-”

“But you are not alone!” the fashion designer snapped, her angry eyes slowly turning to despair. “She wasn’t supposed to go before I did! She was my younger sister...” she coughed as her knees gave way and she fell down in front of the graves. “She was supposed to discover her special talent long before anything like this happened!” She started shaking. “She was supposed to do great things... she was su-supposed to...”

Applejack said nothing; she simply nuzzled her friend. “Come on. Please. Let’s go with the others... we all are mournin’, Rarity... and we are here for y’all if you let us.”

Rarity nodded as she slowly stood with the farmer’s help. Slowly, the pair turned around and started walking away from the graves. Rarity stopped and looked back over her shoulder and finally broke into gasping sobs.

“Sweetie...” a warm voice slowly penetrated the clouds in her mind. The graveyard faded away as a sudden lurch made the young unicorn’s eyes open.

She blinked, slowly looking around until her eyes settled on the mare to her side.

Rarity’s eyes were warm as she gazed at her, a soft smile in her lips. She carefully moved a stray strand of mane from Sweetie’s face. “We’re almost there.”

Sweetie nodded as she yawned, but her thoughts went back to the dream, now nothing more than a few snippets and half-remembered images.

Why do I suddenly feel so sad? she wondered.

“Okay sis...” she stretched and smiled back at the mare next to her.

I’m so glad I’m with Rarity... I hardly got to spend any time with her before...

Her thoughts were interrupted, however, when Canterlot came into view.

It had changed quite a bit. Although there was enough to remind Sweetie of her travels to Canterlot with her sister, the city had expanded. Before, the train would arrive at the edge of the city, but now there were buildings of all sorts around the train station.

The train station itself hadn’t changed much, even if the city had. As they walked out of the train, Rarity motioned for Sweetie to follow her.

o.0.o

The walk to the castle was pretty much the same. Canterlot had existed for a long time and, if things kept going the way they were right now, then it would continue to do so for thousands more. Sweetie had once seen an old drawing of what Canterlot might have looked like several thousand years ago. She was surprised to see a town much smaller than Ponyville. There had been no castle there, but a large wooden structure that had served as a hall for leaders to meet with either Princess... through the years it had grown into the Canterlot she had known... and again, in a brief two hundred years, it had expanded. She shuddered to think how it would look in six hundred years or even a thousand... Her eyes returned to the mare walking next to her, who would, most likely, see that change.

I wonder what's bothering Rarity? Sweetie thought. She’s hardly said anything since we arrived, and it’s already been ten minutes! In all my life, she's only been this quiet when she's asleep!

She decided to probe the waters. “Sis? I've been meaning to ask you... how's Tom doing these days?”

“Hmm?” Rarity didn't look at her. “Oh, he's doing fine dear. I just had dinner with him the other day.”

“With Tom?”

Rarity blinked and stopped then looked down at her sister. “I'm sorry dear, I'm afraid I wasn't paying attention. What were we talking about?”

“Tom... and how you had dinner with him the other day.” Sweetie gave her sister a look.

“Oh...” Rarity grinned sheepishly.

“Sis, is something wrong?”

Rarity sighed. “I... I'll tell you when we get to Twilight, okay, Sweetie?”

Sweetie looked away dejectedly. “Fine.”

The pair made their way in silence once more towards their objective.

Canterlot Castle was huge. It remained the same as far as Sweetie could tell, with Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns and the Royal Library being part of the Castle, making the structure even larger.

The older unicorn led Sweetie to one of the entrances. A guard looked up, ready to stop them, but hesitated as he recognized Rarity. After a second, he moved aside, letting them pass. As soon as they had crossed the threshold, Sweetie knew Twilight was in the building. There was something... a feeling all around her... the purple unicorn’s magic seeming to permeate the air itself.

“So this is the Royal Library... you know, last time I was at Canterlot Castle we didn't really get... to... see...” The filly's voice faded as she stood there gaping at all the books. She felt a shudder run down her back.

So much knowledge! She eagerly trotted to one of the bookshelves.

“Oh, wow...” she levitated a thick tome out. “A first edition of 'Secrets of Transmutation Theory' by Phantom Image! Twilight was always complaining that the Library in Ponyville didn't have a copy!”

Rarity blinked in surprise. “Why Sweetie, I didn't remember you being so... studious.”

“Oh, I learned a lot from Twilight...,” Sweetie commented as she searched through the index. “When you left me to study with her, I slowly started to like reading and now...” She smiled at Rarity. “I've been learning so many spells! Oh! And take a look at this!”

As her horn glowed with magic, a small hole in the air appeared and a notebook with a gem-studded cover floated out.

Cautiously, Rarity approached the desk where Sweetie had laid open the notebook beside the old tome. The younger unicorn slid out a parchment with an official Canterlot seal on it.

“Look sis!” Sweetie smiled with obvious pride as she presented the paper to her older sister.

Rarity looked at the parchment in surprise. “Sweetie this is... you were accepted into Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns?”

“Eeyup!” the younger unicorn giggled. “I was surprised too, after the way my test went, although I think I could have done better if Nightmare Moon hadn’t sneezed at the last minute...”

The fashion designer blinked. “I am still rather shocked that you actually knew Nightmare Moon... moreover that you talk about her as though she were just another friend.”

Sweetie chuckled. “Oh, I was scared of her at the beginning, but once I realized she was just a prankster things got a lot easier.”

Rarity shook her head in bewildered amusement, her eyes dropping to the paper in front of her. “Well, congratulations Sweetie, this is certainly a pleasant surprise.”

“Thanks!” Sweetie smiled, then turned back to the tome. “Now, let me take a quick look at this before we go find Twilight, okay? I always wanted to see what she found so interesting about this and-”

“Don't worry, you can take a good, long look at it after we talk,” Twilight said, looking down at the book.

“Aaah!”

The pair of mares looked down at the collapsed younger unicorn with barely contained mirth. “Are you alright, Sweetie?” Rarity asked.

“Why, why, whyyy do you keep doing that to me?” Sweetie whimpered as she slowly stood up.

“Well, if you paid attention to your surroundings, we wouldn't surprise you so much, would we?” Twilight chuckled. “It's nice to see you again, Sweetie, although I really want to know how it is that you've come to be here.”

Rarity looked at Twilight, startled. “You mean-”

“That she's the real deal?” Twilight asked with a small smile. “Yes, she is.”

Sweetie's eyes narrowed. “Wait... what do you mean...” she looked from her mentor to her sister, who shifted guiltily. “Did you... ask Twilight to scan me?”

Rarity sighed, not meeting her sisters gaze. “I'm sorry Sweetie... but... I had to know,” she said, looking up at the younger unicorn. “You have to understand-”

“What, that you didn’t trust me?” Sweetie stepped back, a hurt look crossing her face.

“No!” Rarity quickly hugged her. “Sweetie... my sister died... do you understand? When I saw you again... I couldn't know, as much as I hoped, if you were real or... well...”

“A creation of Discord?” Sweetie whispered dejectedly into her sister's mane.

“Or any of our other enemies,” Twilight sighed. “Don't hold it against her, Sweetie. We’ve all suffered great losses in our lives. Husbands, sisters, children... friends...”

Sweetie remained silent for a moment longer, but finally nodded. “I think I understand a bit...”

Rarity released her from the hug and smiled warmly at her. “Now dear, why don't you tell Twilight and I what happened to you... from the beginning?”

Sweetie Belle took a deep breath. “It all started when my sister had to go on a trip...”

o.0.o

“That's... quite the adventure...” Rarity managed to say after having gaped at Sweetie for the majority of the telling.

Twilight seemed slightly perturbed as well, but, after a deep breath she summoned a quill, ink and paper. “Okay, we should go over some details...”

“Like what?” Sweetie asked.

Rarity smirked. “Like how Twilight and The Great and Powerful Trixie came to share a bed, of course!”

“Right.” Twilight blinked. “Wait! I mean no! What... no! Rarity! You know I'm not into mares!”

Sweetie and Rarity blinked. “You're not?” they asked at the same time.

“No! And I don't think there was ever any doubt!” Twilight snapped. “Now. Sweetie, I'll ask some questions, try to answer them as best as you can, okay?”

“Okay, but-”

“First question,” Twilight interrupted. “Do you remember the names of the items the Princess gave your Twilight?”

Sweetie thought for a second. “No... I just know what I told you; they had something to do with time and space.”

Twilight nodded, scribbling notes down. “Okay, based on your description, I can tell that that item is not part of our Canterlot's Magical Item list. I've pretty much seen them all.” She wrote some more, then looked up. “What happens when you absorb a crystal? Do you jump immediately?”

“No...” Sweetie frowned. “The first time, I talked to my Twilight through the crystal...”

“And this was in that universe where Trixie and I were a couple?”

Sweetie nodded.

“Okay, do you remember what the Twilight in the crystal told you?

“She said... she said that I should draw the magic from the crystal, and that it would take us both home.”

Twilight blinked and quickly wrote a couple of things. “Both of you? Are you sure?”

Sweetie nodded.

Twilight hummed to herself as she finished the notes she was taking. “And tell me, how long did it take you to learn to levitate objects?”

“About... two and a half weeks, I think.”

“And Illusion? Projecting your voice, painting Nightmare Moon's room pink?”

“Uh...” Sweetie tapped her chin with her hoof. “Well, Trixie taught me in a different way, she was all about being hooves-on and practice, practice, practice,” the young mare answered. “But I would say... maybe three days? I could do it by the time we were in Nightmare Moon's Castle.”

“I see... and you learned a new spell there?”

“Yes!” Sweetie replied with a big smile. “You taught me Darkness and Nightmare Moon told me to learn Nightvision.”

Twilight arched an eyebrow. “Really, for a... filly your age, I can tell you that just about every spell you've learned is above the curve of average unicorns. Can you cast Darkness for me?”

“Um... I haven't tried it-”

“I just want you to try, Sweetie,” Twilight smiled. “Go on.”

Sweetie stared ahead for a moment, her mind going back to the lessons she had gone over with another Twilight just a day ago. She closed her eyes and concentrated, mixing the flow of magic in the way the book had illustrated, and remembering every tip that her mentor’s interdimensional twin had given her.

She heard her sister gasp and opened her eyes...

Wait... didn’t I just open my eyes? She tried again, only to realize that her eyes were open and that she was surrounded by a thick inky-black darkness.

“I did it? I did it! On my first try!”

“Well done, Sweetie!” Twilight’s voice came from somewhere beside her. “Now, if you would be so kind as to dismiss it?”

With an invisible nod, Sweetie released the spell and suddenly light again flooded into the room.

“That was impressive, Sweetie!” Rarity smiled. “How many spells do you know now?”

“Seven, I think... if you count the Pocket Dimension spell for my notebook,” Sweetie said.

Twilight wrote down several notes, but looked up to Sweetie. “Well, you know how to summon it, but I wouldn’t count that one as a spell by itself, since the properties that control the hole in space-time are actually part of the notebook.”

“I see... so the spell matrix is in continuous flow inside the gems...”

“Which are tied by the summon spell to your call...” Twilight added.

“but since it is outside of time and space it can travel across the worlds with me -in a manner of speaking- and the spell will release the flow...” Sweetie fell silent when Rarity placed a hoof to her forehead.

“You don’t seem to have a fever...” the fashion designer muttered.

“What?”

“You were rambling, dear.”

Twilight continued to scribble away while Sweetie looked down a sheepish smile in her face. “Sorry.”

“Okay, I have another question Sweetie; have you noticed an increase in the potency of your spells since you started traveling?”

The filly in a mare’s body blinked. “Well... I wasn’t able to levitate that much at first, but now I can levitate heavier things, and the area I painted in Nightmare Moon’s room was directly proportional to the amount of magic applied to it so-”

“That’s a yes,” Twilight finished for her. “Good. I think those are all my questions for now...”

“What are you thinking, Twilight?” Rarity asked, giving her friend a worried glance.

“I’m not sure... I need to study a bit and analyze some of this data... but I think I have a good idea of what’s going on...” she sighed. “Do you think I could borrow your notebook for a bit, Sweetie? I’d like to take a look at the matrix. I promise to take good care of it.”

Sweetie nodded. “Sure!”

Twilight smiled. “Thanks! I’ll need to talk to you both a bit later. I’m finishing up with my packing, and...”

“Ah’m tellin’ ya that Twilight is waiting for me!” a very distinct voice came from the door.

The three watched as Applejack shook off the guard, who after a quick glance at Twilight and a nod from the unicorn, left the earth pony in peace.

“Darn it, why couldn’t he just let me in? He knows who Ah am!” Applejack shook her head, looking towards them. “Heya, Twilight! I’ve come to help you pack! Oh and lookie here, Rarity! Fancy meeting you here, I didn’t know that you were comin’ over!” The farmer chuckled. “And who’s this fine, young-” she stopped cold. Her eyes slowly narrowed as she stared at Sweetie Belle. “What is goin' on here?”

Rarity coughed, uncomfortable with the anger showing in her friend's eyes. “I'm sure you're confused, Applejack, but-”

“Darn right I'm confused!” Applejack growled, stomping down with a hoof as she turned to glare at Rarity and Twilight. “What is she doin' here?” she asked, her head motioning towards Sweetie Belle.

Sweetie gulped. Applejack looked like she was about to jump on her and pummel her into a paste. “A-Applejack, I'm Swee-”

“Shaddup, you!” Applejack snapped, her head whipping to face Sweetie Belle. “Ah don't know what hell-hole ya'll crawled out, but Ah ain't gonna let ya get away with this!” she snorted, lowering her body and widening her stance.

Sweetie Belle took a step back, trembling.

She's going to kill me! she thought in horror. Applejack's eyes betrayed no compassion. When the orange mare took a step forward, Sweetie stepped back. Why are you so angry? What’d I do?

“Applejack, please calm down!” Twilight gasped. “We can explain-”

“This ain’t normal! And there’s no explanation that can justify her bein’ here!” Applejack countered, never taking her eyes from Sweetie as she took another menacing step towards her. “Whatever this thing is, she ain't Sweetie!”

“Applejack, step away from my sister!” Rarity growled.

“Rarity, your sister and my sister are both gone!” Applejack snapped. “Ah know you’ve had a lot of trouble dealin’ with it even now, but this pony... this thing... it ain’t her!”

“Bu-”

“Cut the horseapples!” Applejack growled, pushing Sweetie back with a forceful shove. “Ah'll take care of ya right here and send ya on yer way!”

Oh, Celestia... she's really going to kill me! Sweetie fell on her haunches, cringing as Applejack reared on her hind legs.

Rarity slammed Applejack out of the way, sending her sprawling to the floor as she stood protectively over Sweetie Belle. “You will stay away from my sister!” she hissed.

“Ah ain’t backin’ up! She’s not your sister!”

“Girls!” Twilight shouted, drawing their attention. “Calm down! Look at what you’re doing to Sweetie!”

The younger unicorn had curled up next to the table and was looking at Applejack with a completely terrified expression.

Rarity turned to look back at Applejack with such venom in her eyes that the farmer took an involuntary step back.

“If you ever again threaten her like you did...” Rarity trailed off, the threat hanging in the air. After a second, she looked down to her cowering sister. “Let’s go, Sweetie,” Rarity said softly, slowly nudging the younger mare. “I have a lot of places to show you.”

Slowly, the older mare maneuvered Sweetie around the table, all the time keeping a cold glare on Applejack, just daring her to make a move or say something. “Twilight dear, we will talk later when you are in more... civilized company.”

Twilight could only nod as the pair left, before turning to face her earth pony friend. “What happened there, Applejack?”

Applejack shifted from hoof to hoof. “We have to talk about that filly, Twi... I’ve... I’ve been having dreams about her...”

o.0.o

“Are you okay, Sweetie?”

The younger unicorn didn’t answer; she just kept shivering as they walked.

Rarity sighed. Sweetie Belle had never really had a confrontation like that her whole life--a snarling werewolf was an instinctual enemy after all... however, having someone you loved and trusted about to attack you...

“Why is Applejack so angry at me?” Sweetie finally asked shakily.

Rarity sighed. “I don't know, Sweetie. Applejack has lost a lot of family over the years, and for a pony who comes from a big family... each one has been very hard. Especially Apple Bloom.”

“Just like I was for you...” the younger mare sighed in return.

“But even then, I have never seen Applejack react like this... maybe it's her old superstitious self kicking in... or she merely woke up in a bad mood.” The older unicorn shook her head. “Applejack has always been a firecracker, Sweetie. Let her be for now; Twilight will help calm her down.”

The younger mare seemed doubtful, but nodded. She looked around; they were in an older section of Canterlot, with several buildings in what she could only call a 'classic' style architecture since she knew just next to nothing about it. “Where are we?”

Rarity smiled as she slowed down to a stop in front of a huge building. “This, Sweetie, is the Canterlot Opera House!”

Sweetie Belle’s eyes widened as she looked at the building before her. This is where her counterpart had learned to sing... where she had become famous.

“Come with me,” Rarity said as she walked to the double doors. She spoke briefly with a clerk whom stared at Sweetie as if she were a ghost. The clerk quickly nodded and soon they were being ushered through the doors.

There were few ponies working in there at the time, but one and all stopped what they were doing to gape at the pair of unicorns, or, more specifically, at Sweetie, who returned their stares with a confused look. “Sis...” she whispered, “why is everypony looking at me like that?”

“Hm?” Rarity looked at the ponies. “You’ll see.”

They turned around another red-carpeted hall and Sweetie stopped. In front of her was a wall display with several pictures of her in amazing dresses performing for thousands of ponies. A plaque with a brief biography was next to a smiling picture.

“There is another, bigger set of pictures, notes and even dresses in the Hall of Great Equestrian Artists,” Rarity noted, smiling at her sister’s expression of awe. “The Opera keeps a few and sometimes rotates them, but yours have been here for quite a long time.”

“Who’s that?” Sweetie asked, pointing at a gray mare playing a cello next to her in one of the pictures. They seemed to have the stage for themselves, Sweetie sang, as the earth pony played.

“That is Octavia,” Rarity said. “You would have been too young in your world to have met her yet. “She played at quite a few Galas. You eventually went to one with me and I became good friends with her when she played background music for a song you sang for the Princesses.”

Sweetie gulped. She slowly traced a hoof on the glass of the picture. So many friends I have yet to meet, so many ponies that changed my life or will change it... Sweetie blinked.

“Wait, you had mentioned her before, along with Fancypants?”

Rarity nodded. “She was very helpful to you; she already had a great deal of influence here and, when you made it in, she wasted no time in making you her protege.”

Sweetie looked at the picture again, now noticing the proud glance the earth pony was directing at her singing counterpart. “Sis... I’d like to hear some of Octavia’s music... and mine.”

Rarity smiled. “This way, Sweetie.”

o.0.o

The hours passed quickly as the pair listened to Sweetie’s songs and Octavia’s cello. The younger unicorn was impressed with the ample variety of genres her counterpart had explored. She had started with classical music; she’d sing arias and play roles in operas... she had done a duet once with a famous singer, gone into pop and even country, which Rarity had sworn was due to hanging around Apple Bloom far too much.

Where are you now? You're so far away
From me, and yet, I can't help but pray

The experience had been overwhelming and humbling. She had listened to herself as she’d grown and succeeded in a very competitive field, and she’d done more than that: she’d become an icon. It was already more than a hundred years since her death, but ponies still listened to her songs.

That you will stand here with me by your side
One day, 'til then I shall try my best to bide

It’s like I suddenly have to live up to this, Sweetie thought, looking at the pensive Rarity as she listened to one of her songs, a piece she had named Heart’s Lament. Like I have to be as big as I became here... I have to be in the hearts of ponies for generations after my death... She sighed. And if I don’t... if I’m not... what will Rarity think of me? She looked at her sister’s hoofs, encased in their fancy cuffs as the older mare tapped along to the rhythm of the song. A slow feeling of dread overcame her as she looked at them. She remembered having read a horror book at the library once, and how one of the characters... she shook her head.

When I see all that you've done for me
I remember how your love set me free

Sweetie looked at Rarity, the older mare had closed her eyes and was swaying to the music. “Rarity?” When the older mare didn’t answer, Sweetie put a hoof on her sister’s shoulder.

Oh but now, when I'm so far from thee
Will the wind carry you my longing plea?

Rarity started, opening her eyes and looking around before they set on Sweetie. There was a flash of pain in those blue eyes that slowly faded as she looked at her younger sister. “I- I’m sorry, Sweetie I got lost there in your song and...” She was crying. “I’ve always liked this one. I remember when you composed it and-”

I will always wait here my love!
So that we can fly away,
Through the sky above,

Sweetie held her sister close.

Rarity melted into the hug, her words forgotten as she felt the living heartbeat of her sister. She closed her eyes and shuddered as she silently let the tears flow. Sweetie didn’t let her go, even as she covered her sister’s coat with salty tears. Slowly, she raised her forelegs to wrap them around her Sweetie.

And then we will be together for all of time.
Can't you hear and see me pine? You are mine,
For you, are my one true love...

The pair listened silently as the song finished and slowly faded. It was quiet for several minutes, save for the shuddering breaths of the older mare. “I’m sorry, Sweetie.”

The younger unicorn shook her head. “It’s okay... but sis... we need to talk.”

Rarity said nothing as her sister slowly pulled off the cuffs, exposing the scars where she had cut herself.

“Please, sis...” Sweetie said, looking up at her.

Rarity stared at the scars she had intentionally left behind to remember what she had done. She remembered finding Sweetie’s letter... her sister had known. She carefully looked up at Sweetie’s eyes. “I- I don’t know if I can, Sweetie...”

“Please, sis?”

The room was quiet for a few moments, but then...

“I had forced myself not to think about it for years,” Rarity whispered. Had it not been for the absolute silence in the room, Sweetie might have missed it; she remained quiet as her sister slowly spoke. “I tried to pretend it wasn’t going to happen... that I could deal with it when it finally did. So I pushed it to the back of my mind again and again.”

Rarity wasn't looking at her anymore. Her head had turned away and her eyes were fixed on a corner of the room.

“Even after you retired and needed my help to even get to the grocery store... it wasn't going to happen. You were strong in spirit...” She clenched her teeth. “It wasn't fair. You were my younger sister... but... but you were so much older! You knew it was going to happen... you even wrote me a note because you knew how hard I was trying to make it different!”

She started shaking and hugged herself, wrapping her hooves around her trembling body.

“When it finally happened... I- I found you... you looked so calm... happy even. I couldn't- I...” The older unicorn paused, looking for words. “It was... beyond me. I couldn’t understand how you could be gone. The brightest gem I’d ever had... I couldn't do anything to bring you back... you were the one pony keeping me together, Sweetie. And you were gone. Just like that.”

Sweetie shifted in her seat. Oh, sis... why did I have to ask?

“It was like a rock had crushed me. As if I couldn't breathe, but I was still here!” The unicorn closed her eyes in painful remembrance. “I was alone! I was all that was left of our family! I didn't want you gone... all my life I've been generous; I've done everything I can to share what I could to make other ponies happy... but the one time I truly wanted something for me... it was snatched away.”

She fell quiet again, breathing in deeply with her eyes closed. “I didn't want to stay...” Her voice was again a whisper. “I just couldn't. I- I don't know if I could ever justify it, or reason it out. It's not that simple to explain a- a void. Or a heartbreak. Or suddenly feeling like the world ripped away everything from inside of you and left you there to suffer.” Rarity sighed, voice trembling. “And so... when I saw you there... and I realized what had happened... I... I went to my work room and I found the scissors...”

Sweetie was crying as she shook her head in denial.

“I went straight for the artery, I cut as deeply as I could...” Rarity continued in an almost monotone voice. “Fluttershy found me...”

“Stop...” Sweetie hugged her sister.

“... I was late for our weekly spa treatment... she knew I wouldn't miss it unless something was wrong... I think she knew...”

“Stop. Please...” the younger unicorn sobbed. “I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! Please don't say anything else... I love you sis, please...”

Rarity slowly leaned into the hug. “You were gone. She woke me up... I was lying on my side... there was so much blood... I didn’t want to get up... and then... then I saw your note.”

“I'm sorry I asked, Rarity, please... just stop...”

The older unicorn took a deep breath and opened her blue eyes, looking down at her sister hugging her. For a moment, she felt dizzy, but then she smiled as she hugged Sweetie back.

“I have you back for now, Sweetie,” she whispered. “You're here with me for a bit longer. And this time, when you go... I will be able to say goodbye and farewell.”

o.0.o

The pair left the Opera House shortly after. As the building slowly disappeared behind them, Sweetie looked up at her sister. “Where are we going now, sis?”

“Back to the Library,” Rarity replied. “If Applejack is gone, maybe we can speak with Twilight further.”

“Oh... okay...” Sweetie looked away, unsure. “It’s just... Applejack doesn’t really seem to like me very much and-”

“Don’t worry, Sweetie,” Rarity interrupted. “Applejack won’t do anything to you, I’ll make sure. And I’m sure Twilight would also step in.”

“Okay...”

The pair walked in a congenial silence until they reached the Library. Stepping ahead, Rarity faced one of the guards. “May we speak to Twilight Sparkle?”

The guard blinked. “I’m sorry, Lady Rarity, but Lady Twilight is occupied at the moment. She asked us to let you know that she would meet with you tonight at Lady Pinkamena’s party.”

Rarity nodded and stepped back. “It seems Twilight is busy; most likely experimenting with something to do with your travels...”

“So what do we do now?”

“I think home would be the best choice for now, Sweetie.” Rarity looked at the sun's position. “We have to get ourselves ready for the party, after all.”

Sweetie nodded as she followed her sister. “Rarity? Do you think Applejack will be there?”

The older mare sighed. “I would assume so. But don't worry, I'm sure Twilight put her doubts to rest. She’ll probably be back to her normal, workaholic self.”

The train ride back home was a quiet affair. Physically tired and emotionally spent, both mares made their way to the Boutique and barely had enough energy to slump onto their respective beds.

As she yawned and felt herself slipping away into dreamland, Sweetie's gaze slowly roamed her room.

There are so many things that are just the same... but, I never had that hat back home. Or those little jewelry boxes. Her eyes settled on a chest she had not noticed before. It was half-hidden under a dress that was hanging over it.

But what drew her attention to it was the symbol on the front. It seemed familiar, somehow. It was a musical note, a metal G-clef that appeared to be part of the clasp keeping the chest closed. Sweetie yawned, closing her eyes and wondering what could be inside it.

o.0.o

I hate her.”

Rarity!”

How can you say that?!”

But... she was your friend...”

Silly, you don't mean that!”

Yes I do!” Rarity snapped at Pinkie Pie as she refused to move from her position. “I hate her! She took the only really precious thing from me!”

We don't know what happened, sugarcube...” Applejack said, placing a hoof on Rarity's shoulder.

The white unicorn pushed it away and stepped back. “Whatever happened, she was in charge! She took Sweetie away from me!”

I... um... I'm sure it was just an accident...”

She was responsible for her!” Rarity growled, closing her eyes tightly and lowering her head. “She was supposed to take care of Sweetie while I was gone!”

Sugar- Rarity...” Applejack coughed as she walked up to the unicorn. “Please, don't do this to yourself. You know that Twilight would have done anything to protect Sweetie. She would never let her near anything she knew was dangerous. You know that.”

But... what do I tell my parents? How can I stand in front of their graves and hold my head up high? I failed them, Applejack... the one task that they asked of me when it happened...”

She's with them, Rarity,” Fluttershy's soft voice whispered as she hugged her friend. “And they know everything that happened... they know it was no-pony's fault.”

Come on, Rarity,” Rainbow Dash's usually confident voice was subdued. “We all miss them... Let's say goodbye together one last time.”

Rarity looked past her friends to the grave that awaited them. A purple-marble slab framed in moon rock had been laid down on the grassy hill. It had a dedication to two very dear friends, from family and friends. It was positioned so that the first rays of the morning sun would shine on it. It looked deceptively simple for all the weight it carried in the hearts of those left behind. But it was still incomplete.

Slowly the group made their way up until Rarity stood at the front of all of them, staring at the slab. She looked back to her friends, who nodded their encouragement. Rarity turned to the slab, her horn lit up as the magic was absorbed into it and her words etched magically on its surface, taking place next to her friend's own thoughts and farewells.

Rarity spoke up as she wrote. “Twilight... I loved you like a sister, and I grew to respect you and eventually to entrust you with my most precious treasure. Whatever happened that day, it took three of the dearest souls I had ever had the fortune of meeting. You and my Sweetie are still together. Take care of her for me, until I can see you both again. And tell Spike that I... I’ll see him there too.

~Rarity”

The unicorn collapsed.

o.0.o

Sweetie opened her eyes slowly, echoes of Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash calling Rarity's name floating at the edges of her consciousness.

She stared at the ceiling as she struggled to remember what she had just seen, but it would not come back to her, despite her knowing that it had been somehow important... very important.

Her eyes returned to the chest she had seen under the dress.

Slowly, Sweetie got out of bed and listened carefully. She could hear the rhythmic breathing coming from Rarity’s room down the hall. Her sister was still asleep.

Carefully moving the dress out of the way with her magic, she stared at the G-Clef in the front. She unlatched it and pushed up the top to reveal stacks of neatly ordered notebooks and papers, a few replacement strings for a musical instrument and an old bow, the same type she had seen Octavia use on her-

“Oh.” Sweetie sat down, staring at what she had in front of her. Levitating one of the notebooks, she opened it up, revealing what she had suspected. Musical notations covered each neat row on each page, lyrics were written under the musical notes with esoteric symbols of their own... she could figure out which called for a longer, sustained note, but there were so many that she couldn’t decipher.

She carefully read through the notebooks, piling them next to the chest. When she reached past them, she found a smaller box, tied shut with a blue ribbon. Undoing it, she discovered several opened envelopes inside, all of them for her, or for the Sweetie Belle of this dimension at least.

Since they didn’t seem to be in a particular order, she took out the first.

Dear Sweetie,

Country music? Really? When I told Vinyl that you had been singing country music with that voice of yours, she did not stop laughing for an hour straight. What were you thinking? I know it was Apple Bloom’s birthday but you don’t use a voice like yours for that kind of music!

I’m sorry, I’m being a bit unfair, it was your best friend’s birthday after all.

It just surprises me, that’s all. You should have seen what Rarity wrote in the letter she sent me! She was, well, shocked is one way of putting it. I myself had to imbibe quite a sum of whiskey to gather my thoughts. A single malt in one gulp... it was almost offensive!

However, I heard that Applejack couldn't stop singing your song after the party, so it seems you've made quite the impression on the genre. I simply hope that perhaps she may see the light and attend the Opera so that she might see you in your natural element. As keen as her ear is for... other genres, it is undoubtedly in our sanctuary of music that yours can raise the heavens themselves.

Well, I just wanted to share my thoughts and see how you were doing. I’ll let you know when we arrive back in Canterlot.

~Octavia

A decidedly less elegant penmareship followed.

Sweetie, this is Vinyl. Octy asked me to put this in the mail and not to read it. But I just have to say: well done, girl! I don’t listen to country myself, but you can’t get caught in that stuffy and uptight cell you and Octy call an ‘Opera House’ forever! If you ever want to try for Electronic, Bronybeat or Techno... you know who to call!

~Scratch

Sweetie blinked at the letter. Rarity had mentioned the country song... had it really been so good and so shocking that it had gotten Applejack singing and Rarity writing worried letters to Octy- Octavia? Sweetie chuckled, wondering where that song could be.

She dug deeper into the chest, finding a few pictures of herself and Octavia. Vinyl Scratch, a pony she only vaguely remembered from one of Pinkie Pie’s parties, was also present in several of them. Somehow, although she felt like she was looking and going through something sacred, to Sweetie it felt... right. As if she were supposed to see these.

She sighed as she started to carefully put away just about everything. As she took a look at the notebooks again, she left one behind along with a picture. Maybe she could copy some of the songs into her own notebook and try and learn them later... As for the picture... Octavia, Vinyl and Rarity stood behind Sweetie in a graduation gown. She looked exactly as she did now, still young and so happy. The other three mares in the picture looked extremely proud, and they smiled honestly and without a care.

Sweetie took a deep breath as she levitated both relics up to the bed with her. It was time to learn... and maybe the spirits of Octavia, Vinyl and her counterpart would inspire and help her find her own talent.

Slowly, she went through the notebook, looking for songs she could maybe learn.

o.0.o

The time for the party arrived almost too quickly.

Before Sweetie knew it, Pinkie Pie was knocking on the door to the Boutique, waking Rarity from her nap.

“Come on, girls!” the pink earth pony giggled as she bounced around them. “We’re gonna be late!”

“It’ll be fine, dear,” Rarity said. “After all, they can’t start without us, right?”

“Oh, but we still have to get there!” Pinkie pouted.

“Where are we going, exactly?” Sweetie asked. “Isn’t the party at Sugarcube Corner?”

“Don’t be silly!” the earth pony smiled. “The party is at Sweet Apple Acres! I convinced Applejack to lend me her barn earlier today!”

Rarity stopped combing her hair and looked at Pinkie with a frown. The party pony looked from her to Sweetie, who seemed to have lost all interest in partying.

“What’s wrong?”

“I- I don’t know if we should go...” Sweetie ventured.

“Why not? I’m sure everypony will be happy to see you!”

“I wouldn’t say that, darling.” Rarity sighed. “I’m afraid Applejack will not be happy to see us there.”

“What? Of course she will!” Pinkie exclaimed.

“Did you tell her for who this party was?” Sweetie asked.

“Well no, but-”

“We saw her earlier; trust us, she won’t want us there,” Rarity insisted.

It was then that Pinkie put her hooves on top of the fashion designer's shoulders. “You. Are. Coming. To. The. Party!!!” With each word, the earth pony towered more and more over the white unicorn until she was looking down on her. “Am I clear?”

“Y-yes...” Rarity meeped.

“Good,” Pinkie said. “Because I don’t want my friends to ruin a perfectly fine party over a fight!”

“But... she threatened me and-” Sweetie feebly attempted to say, but stopped the moment Pinkie glared at her. “... and I think I should make up with her becauseotherwisethepartywouldbewasted?”

The earth pony smiled. “Exactly!” she bounced around the room happily. “Now we go to the party! Now we go to the party!” Pinkie sang over and over.

Sweetie and Rarity exchanged amused glances. As soon as their manes were ready, the pair followed the bouncing earth pony towards Sweet Apple Acres.

o.0.o

The inside of the barn had been decorated in festive colors. Balloons abounded and floated freely while confetti randomly fell on and around the guests from somewhere in the rafters.

Fluttershy flinched slightly at a balloon suddenly popping on top of her, which became a rain of colorful paper. “Um... does anypony know why Pinkie organized this party?”

“Well, I don’t know!” Rainbow Dash said with a big grin as she munched on a pickle. “But as long as there’s all this amazing food, who cares?” She proceeded to pick out another pickle from her ice-cream while her mate, Vespa, looked at the mix with a slightly disgusted look. When offered some, he vehemently shook his head.

“I’ll uh... get some crackers...” he coughed as he turned around and made a bee-line for the food table.

Twilight smiled. It was great to see all of her friends in a more relaxed party so soon after she had decided to come back to Ponyville. They all seemed to be in a good mood... well, all except one.

Her eyes turned to Applejack, who stood separate from the group, drinking shots from some unidentified source.

“What’s got her in a bad mood anyways?” Dash asked, walking up to Twilight. Her belly was beginning to show and she was starting to waddle more than walk.

Twilight sighed. “I think it’s because of the reason behind the party...”

“So you do know why it is!” the Wonderbolt leaned closer to Twilight, a glint in her eye. “Well then, why don’t you tell-”

“Weeeeeeee’reeeee heeeeeereeee!” Pinkie sang as she slammed the door open, missing the sulking Applejack by mere inches.

The two pegasi watched in anticipation as Rarity made her way in, followed by somepony they had never expected to see again.

“Oh... my...” Fluttershy said, her eyes wide as she stared incredulously at the second unicorn to walk in.

“Buh-” Rainbow Dash’s mouth fell open. Slowly she made her way to Sweetie Belle and jabbed her with a hoof, eliciting a soft ‘ouch’. “You’re... you’re real...”

Sweetie Belle looked at the pegasus with no small amount of surprise. “Rainbow Dash? You’re... pregnant?!” She turned to face Rarity. “She’s pregnant!”

Rarity chuckled. “Why, yes, I suppose she is.”

“But, you knew!” the younger unicorn accused.

“You didn’t really expect that you would be the only surprise in the party, did you?” Pinkie Pie grinned.

“But, I-” Sweetie couldn’t think of what to say, and so she stared back at the staring pegasus.

“But... how can this be?” Fluttershy turned to ask Twilight. “Sweetie’s...” she stole a glance at Rarity. “Well... she’s...”

“She is Sweetie Belle,” Twilight said. “Just not our Sweetie, you see-”

“Darn right she ain’t!” Applejack interrupted, walking unsteadily towards the group and having only heard the last part of the conversation. “Our Sweetie is dead! Jus’ like, jus’ like Apple-” she growled. “An’ Scoot-all-loo, an’ mah brother an’-”

“Applejack...” Twilight interrupted, placing a hoof on her friend. “Calm down, I already explained to you that-”

“Shaddup!” The apple farmer snarled at her friend, who took a surprised step back. “Ah’ know what ya’ll said! An’ it still don’t make any sense! What kinda idiots do you take us for with all your blabberin’ fancy words an’ magical theo...” She frowned. “Things.” She shook her head.

“Theories.”

“Them! Those. Ya’ll know what ah mean!” Applejack glared at something next to Sweetie, who pressed against Rarity, flinching under the bleary gaze of the apple farmer.

“Ya’ll come over here, an’... an’ I’ve known that ya’ll would, ‘cause, ah dreamed how ya’ll...”

“Applejack,” Fluttershy carefully put a hoof on her friend’s shoulder. “You’re drunk.”

“No, I ain’t!” Applejack said, shaking her friend’s hoof off her shoulder and marching up to the wall, where a pony sized picture of a pony rump without a tail which was lying close by for a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-pony was. “An’ ya’ll better face me when ah’m talking to ya! Ah know yer not the real Sweetie!” she poked the poster. “Ah’m talking to ya! Turn around!”

“Twilight,” Rainbow Dash said as she, Sweetie and Rarity joined the group. “I think you better explain how Sweetie Bell can be here.” She intentionally faced away from Applejack, who continued glaring and snapping at the poster.

As Twilight led the group way from the drunk farmer to explain what Sweetie had said, the unicorn in question slowly stepped from the group and turned to look at Applejack.

“...and it ain’t fair that yo-you came ‘ere and- and you didn’t bring mah sister with ya!” the earth pony half-sobbed, half-accused the poster. “Ah’ been havin’ dreams of mah Apple Bloom an’ ya’ll, sure as hay it was you in mah dream, havin’ no cutie mark or-” She hiccuped and fell on her rump. “Why? Why is it just... you?”

Sweetie sat beside the drunk mare. “I’m sorry I’m not the one you wanted to see...”

“Yer not sorry,” Applejack slurred angrily at the poster. “Yer just sayin’ that ta make me feel better, buh-t it ain’t gonna work! Ah’m onto ya!”

“Applejack...” Sweetie began. “When I arrived, I expected to see Apple Bloom and Scootaloo... I just saw them two days ago! I really just happened to land here where my best friends have been gone for so long and my sister... she-” Sweetie bit down on her lip, not wanting to say it.

Applejack was silent.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be her or that she wasn’t with me when I arrived.” Sweetie sniffed. “I see all of you, and I sort of know you but you don’t know me... not even Scootaloo or Apple Bloom.... they know the ‘me’ from their world... but they don’t know me.”

When Applejack didn’t say anything, Sweetie sighed, looking down at the floor. “I’m not making sense...” she said after a moment. “I wish you would believe me... when I heard that Apple Bloom was gone... I felt like I had been struck with a brick. She and Scootaloo have always been more than friends to me... they’re my sisters.”

Sweetie closed her eyes. “It’s not fair that I have to see their faces and wonder if they will believe me, or if they will be my friends still if I told them what had happened, or if they would think I was something else trying to possess their friend... I don’t know why this is happening.” She watched despondently as her tears wet the floor. “How many times will I go somewhere and find out they died? Will it always hurt? Do I want it to stop hurting?” she sobbed. “I just want to go home. I want to be with my Rarity. I want to keep studying with my Twilight. I want to see my Applejack organize another Sisterhooves Social! I wa-”

She stopped when a hoof was pressed against her mouth. Sweetie opened her eyes and followed the hoof and foreleg to their owner: Applejack.

“Ah don’t know why ah’m so angry at y’all... ah bet I was just overworked...” Applejack offered. “And ah know I can be right stubborn at times.” she stumbled as she moved a bit closer. “And that ah shouldn’t drink as much as ah did tonight. But ah do know something else... when ah met you, ah knew y’all weren’t a bad filly... Ah just didn’t want to believe that you could be here when mah sister ain’t. But that’s not your fault.” Applejack sighed. “Ah miss her like... ah have no idea how to even say. She ain’t coming back... ah thought I’d dealt with it... but ah was wrong. Deep inside me, ah still want her back... that ain’t gonna change neither.”

“I’m sorry,” Sweetie repeated. “I don’t know what to do.”

Applejack was silent for a few moments. “Come with me.”

o.0.o

“... and I think that’s the reason Sweetie is travelling all over different dimensions and yet seems to find herself close to us, or at least our interdimensional counterparts.” Twilight stated.

“Okay,” Rainbow Dash took a deep breath. “That gave me and my foal a headache. Is there an easier way to explain it?”

“I think I got it!” Pinkie Pie laughed. “It’s just like an onion! Everything has layers and they make you cry, but I heard that if you soak them after peeling the skin it helps, but it never did when I tried! But Sweetie is jumping between layers and because it’s the same onion, the universe just seems very similar!”

Twilight blinked. “That’s a very interesting theory, Pinkie, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what I was-”

“Wait...” Rarity stopped Twilight. “Did you hear that?”

Twilight quieted down and the whole group listened carefully.

I made it down the coast in seventeen hours
Pickin' me a bouquet of dogwood flowers
And I'm a hopin' for Ralneigh
I can see my baby tonight

“There it is again!” Rarity whispered urgently. “It sounds familiar!”

“Has anypony seen Sweetie and Applejack?” Fluttershy asked, looking around the barn, where only Vespa stood apart from them.

So rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama anyway you feel
Hey mama rock me
Rock me mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me mama like a south-bound train
Hey mama rock me

“It’s coming from outside! Let’s go, everypony!” Pinkie shouted.

“I hope they’re both okay...” Rarity said worriedly over a few more words coming from outside.

The group made their way to the doors, where they stopped and looked outside. In the darkness, seating over several piles of hay, Applejack strummed a guitar as she and Sweetie sang to the sky, seemingly lost in the moment.

Oh, the North country winters keep a gettin' me now
Lost my money playin' poker so I had to up and leave
But I ain't a turnin' back
To livin' that old life no more

Twilight chuckled. “Well, it seems we were worrying over nothing, right?”

“I wish she had chosen another song...” Rarity sighed. She looked up as Rainbow Dash brushed past her. “Rainbow? Where are you going?”

The pegasus snorted and looked back briefly at her. Dash’s eyes were a bit watery, but her grin didn’t leave her face. “Where do you think? I’m gonna sing too!”

“What?” the fashion designer blinked. “Why?”

Rainbow Dash faced the singing pair. “Scootaloo joined the chorus that time... remember?”

Rarity and the others exchanged glances.

“Mac played the banjo... I had never heard him play before...” Fluttershy reminisced.

“Spike nagged me all night to cast that spell so he could play the fiddle for a few hours...” Twilight sighed.

“It was the best birthday party ever!” Pinkie nodded.

Rarity smiled as the three mares joined the others on top of the hay before walking up to them herself. “Sweetie sang beautifully... even if it was country.”

Vespa looked at the group with a small grin on his face. “Ponyville mares are all crazy. Grandma Scootaloo was right.”

He watched in silence as the seven mares sang into the night, tears flowing freely as they all hugged each other. A traveller bringing memories that the six immortals held dear within themselves...

So rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama anyway you feel
Hey mama rock me
Rock me mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me mama like a south-bound train
Hey mama rock me

They sang to the night, remembering, crying, hugging and hoping.

o.0.o

The next morning, Sweetie decided that she was never going to drink alcohol again in her life. She groaned as she rolled over on the floor to lie on her back, her stinging eyes taking in the inside of the barn.

“How can they drink that stuff over and over again if this happens the next day?” she groaned.

A snore drew her attention to the pile of hay where Rainbow Dash and Vespa were sleeping.

“Wait, Grandma Scootaloo did what?” Vespa asked, eyes wide. “She never told me that!”

“Well, what did you expect?” Rainbow Dash laughed. “You were just a foal back then.”

The pegasus, who bore a striking resemblance to Scootaloo, blushed. “But... I was the same age as she was when she got the weasels into the barrel of cider!”

“Eh, ponies were made of sterner stuff back then,” Rainbow Dash said, punching her partner on the shoulder playfully. “But I’m more intrigued by what happened in the last world you were in, Sweetie; you said that Scootaloo put cling-wrap on the toilet to prank Nightmare Moon?”

“I’m too drunk for this...” Vespa moaned.

Sweetie chuckled as she turned to her stomach. She saw Fluttershy lying next to Twilight. Both mares had gotten completely plastered and were snoring blissfully away.

“Big Mac?!” Twilight sat down with a painful sounding thud. Her magic levitated a cup, filling it up with cider before she downed it in a single gulp.

“Well, I never saw you two do anything but... well, he visited a lot and you blushed when he walked away and you stared at him and-” Sweetie started to explain, but was interrupted.

“Oh, my.” Fluttershy, also blushing, took a sip of her third cup. “I... well, Big Mac was such a gentlecolt... you could have done worse, Twilight.”

“But-” the purple unicorn cringed. “Fluttershy, I swear that I never-”

“His heart was so big...” Fluttershy hiccuped, clearly drunk. “I think he had enough love in him for more than one mare... I used to wonder if I was enough for him...”

Twilight put down another downed cup. “Ah’m telling you that- I’m telling- you see, I never did anything with him, you know?”

Fluttershy sniffed. “...and he would always tell me that I was jus’ bein’ silly, ‘cause he only had eyes for me and...”

“... I mean, it’s not that he wasn’t attractive but...” Twilight paused to drink another cup. “He’s mah best friend’s colt, and I would never... I mean... maybe- no! I would never-”

“But, I mean, Twilight might have been a good choice and, well, I really love her too and-” Fluttershy had finished her cup and was tapping her hoofs together.

Twilight sniffed, looking down miserably at the latest cup as it spilled what remained of its contents on the floor. “I never really got to know anypony like that and...” she suddenly hugged Fluttershy, who hugged her back. “I love you Fluttershy! I would never, ever steal your stallion!”

“I love you too, Twilight,” Fluttershy sniffed. “I think I might’ve even shared with you some-” whatever the pegasus was about to say would forever remain a mystery for Sweetie because at that moment Fluttershy passed out on top of Twilight. The purple unicorn was overwhelmed by the dead weight and fell back.

Uh... Twi? Twilight! You okay?” Sweetie asked. Her only response was a snore. She slowly backed away.

Next to her Applejack kicked in her sleep, barely missing the table, and Rarity cuddled closer when she felt her shifting.

“I fear she will have quite the headache tomorrow.” Rarity said, taking a drink from her cup as she levitated a sheet to cover the snoring Applejack.

“Will she be alright?” Sweetie asked as Rarity served herself another cup.

“She’ll be fine, darling.” The older unicorn smiled at Sweetie. “Immortal, remember?”

Sweetie laughed. “I guess that’s true... now I-” she stopped when a cup full of punch was shoved her way.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Rarity glared at Pinkie Pie, who simply blew a raspberry at her in response.

“Why not?” Pinkie asked, smiling at the pair. “She’s an adult right now! And we’re all having fun!”

“She might look like an adult, but she isn’t!”

“Oh, don’t be such a stick-in-the-mud!” the earth pony giggled. “Come on! We’ve seen enough in our lives to know she’ll be okay!”

“I don’t think- Sweetie!” Rarity gasped as her younger sister chugged down the punch.

“Ugh... what’s that stuff?” Sweetie asked.

“Rum!” Pinkie Pie supplied, pushing another glass at her until she took hold of it with her magic. “Now, let’s play a drinking game!”

Sweetie winced. “I’m never drinking again. Ever!”

“Aw, it wasn’t that bad, was it?” Pinkie asked. When Sweetie had recovered from her fright, the earth pony chuckled. “A bit tense? Here, have one of my special ‘Day-after Cupcakes!’”

“Thank you.”

Sweetie quietly observed the ball of energy that was Pinkie Pie as she moved around the barn, waking up the others and offering them their morning treat.

Huh, this really is helping... she thought as she munched on the cupcake.

In short order, the group was awake and as alert as they could be with only the cupcakes in their stomachs.

“Well, that was some party,” Applejack chuckled weakly.

“It was fun!” Pinkie agreed.

“It certainly was,” Twilight said with a smile. “I really missed all of you. I’m glad I’m back in Ponyville.”

The group shared a smile.

Sweetie sighed. “I guess I should start trying to figure out where the fragment is... as much as I love being with all of you, I have to get back home.”

Rarity winced, looking sadly at her younger sister.

Sweetie immediately noticed. “I’m sorry, sis, I don’t mean that I don’t want to stay with you but-”

Rarity stopped her, placing her hoof softly on Sweetie’s lips. “Don’t apologize, Sweetie,” she said. “I am glad I got to see you here and that we spent this time together. I’ll help you look for the fragment, don’t worry.”

“We’d love to stay, but we have to go back to Wonderbolt HQ...” Rainbow Dash said, smirking at the groggy Vespa. “Some of us have some training to do!”

“Ugh...” the male pegasus groaned.

“Don’t worry, Sweetie” Twilight said, stepping forth. “We can deal with this a little later. We should all go home and clean up first, then I’ll meet you all in the library.” She looked at Rainbow Dash and Vespa. “I think you can stay for a couple of hours longer, right?”

The pair exchanged a glance and nodded. “I think we can,” Rainbow Dash said, looking at the unicorn. “What do you have in mind?”

“Oh, you’ll see!” the unicorn said with a smile.

o.0.o

Sweetie Belle sat on her bed. The only sound in Carousel Boutique was that of Rarity taking a shower.

Lying on the sheets was the picture of Sweetie, Rarity, Octavia and Vinyl during ‘her’ graduation. It was in good condition, not having seen the light of day that much... but there was more to it.

This picture represented the culmination of something that Sweetie was still trying to understand: finding your true talent and becoming even better at it. It represented years of struggle, of study, of mentoring, of friends and family.

I’m not even out of school yet. Sweetie thought with a sigh.

She looked at the mirror, admiring the image of the young adult unicorn looking back at her. Suddenly, she felt very lonely in a body that seemed truly alien to her.

But... if I am jumping from body to body and getting a new one each time, what happened to my own-

“Sweetie!” Rarity called, interrupting the horrible thoughts that were beginning to course through Sweetie’s mind. “I’m ready! Do you want to go to the Library now?”

“Oh... yeah...” Sweetie called back half-heartedly, pushing her thoughts to the back of her mind along with so many other things she didn’t want to think about.

Rarity walked into the room, smiling. “Well then, let’s go!” As she looked down at the picture on the bed, her smile faltered for a second. “I- I haven’t seen that picture in such a long time.”

Sweetie looked at it. “You all look so proud...”

“And we were!” Rarity chuckled. “It was... it was such an amazing day...”

"I hope I get to make my Rarity as proud as she made you..." Sweetie sighed. "Someday...”

Rarity hugged her for a brief moment. “Sweetie... I am sure that you will do just fine once you find your talent,” she said. She sighed and pondered for a moment. “Why don’t you take that picture with you? Can you do that?”

Sweetie nodded, surprised. “Yeah, if I put it inside my notebook...”

Rarity smiled. “Well then, take it with you when you go, dear.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course!” Rarity chuckled. “I wouldn’t offer it otherwise!”

Sweetie looked at the picture for a moment, then smiled. “Thanks, sis!”

“Anytime... sis.”

o.0.o

Twilight looked around at the group gathered in her Library. Once everypony had had time to eat breakfast, take a shower and get ready, they all felt like new ponies.

“Thank you for coming... and waiting in your case, Rainbow Dash, Vespa.”

The pair of pegasi nodded, still waiting for Twilight to explain why they were all there.

“About two hundred years ago, shortly after Fluttershy and Big Macintosh had married, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna asked us to gather together, including your husbands, to talk about very serious matters...” Twilight’s voice cracked . “That day we found out we were immortal.”

The others were silent, remembering the emotionally charged moment when they had realized that all they loved would cease to be in their lifetimes.

“I asked Spike to take care of the Library and left to take a long walk. I remember I was thinking of my parents...” Twilight smiled sadly. “Back then, I already had my suspicions about myself, after all I’d had an anvil land on my head and break my neck... only to be completely fine the next minute... but I never thought until then that I might not be the only one, or that it had been a freak magical accident.

“And so, thinking about that, my hooves took me to that same spot where Derpy had accidentally dropped her cargo on me. I sat down and thought hard about what would happen now. I was sad, but I was also ecstatic.” She chuckled. “After all, I would have all the time in the world to study and all the time in the world to learn more about magic and be with the Princess and my friends...

“But then... then I thought again of my parents. I always knew I would lose them at some point. I hoped it would take a long time but... being immortal it would almost feel like days to me. I thought about my other, non-immortal friends, about Fluttershy and Applejack watching their loved ones fade away... and it was during that moment that I noticed something reflecting the light of the sun... the glint caught my eye and I felt... a compulsion to reach for it.”

Twilight’s horn glowed with energy and a small wooden box levitated towards them. “For the longest time I thought it was simply a strange crystal...” The hatch opened, revealing a purple, jagged crystal. Sweetie gasped.

“But, as I studied it, off and on during the years, I discovered that it was almost... aligned to me... I could perform even stronger feats of magic while in proximity to it... sometimes my thoughts were clearer. Sometimes it was as if I had discussed what I was thinking with somepony else and an epiphany had come.” She studied the crystal for a moment. “After I met Sweetie, and heard her story, I immediately realized what this was... and that it had been waiting for her.” She looked to the young unicorn, who was staring at the crystal. “Sweetie... the crystals that you are absorbing are increasing your magic and your ability to learn... I don’t know how many fragments there are, but I want you to be careful.”

“What do you mean, Twilight?” Sweetie asked, tearing her eyes away from the crystal to look at the purple unicorn.

“I don’t know how it is affecting you beyond knowledge and power,” Twilight explained. “It’s imperative that you don’t absorb too many... or you might be overwhelmed by it.”

Sweetie gulped. “But... it’s the only way I know to travel between worlds...”

Twilight winced. “I know. I wish I had more to tell you, or that I had realized what this was a long time ago so that I could have studied it more closely. However, during your travels, don’t hesitate to tell any other me you might meet about them... they might have better understanding than I did, or even ask the Princesses.”

Sweetie nodded.

“So...” Rarity spoke up. “This is goodbye then?”

Sweetie cringed. She looked back to her sister, who was looking at her with a sad smile. “I- I think so, sis...”

The other mares in the room exchanged glances.

“Ah’m sorry about doubting you and threatening ya’ll,” Applejack said, stepping up to Sweetie and giving her a hug. “Ah’m glad ah got to spend some time with ya’ll last night.”

“Me too...” Sweetie said, returning the hug. “I’ll always remember that song.”

“Make sure ya do!” Applejack smiled. “Ah’m sure all other Applejacks out there will like it.”

Fluttershy was next, gently nuzzling Sweetie Belle. “Take care... and... take care of Big Mac in whatever world you see him for me...”

Sweetie chuckled. “I will.”

Pinkie Pie’s hug was so strong she pushed out all the air out of Sweetie’s lungs. “You should come back someday and have another party with us!” she laughed. “And remember, true friendship lasts forever!”

Sweetie Belle was still taking deep breaths when she felt Rainbow Dash’s hoof in her mane. The Wonderbolt smirked. “It was awesome to talk to you about Scoots and stuff that happened back in the day!” She laughed. “I had almost forgotten all about that Mare-do-Well fiasco. Take care, kiddo.”

Vespa smiled. “It was nice to finally meet you, Sweetie Belle. Granny Scoots used to tell me a lot about you.”

One by one the ponies walked out of the library after saying their goodbyes, leaving Sweetie Belle alone with Rarity and Twilight.

“Sweetie,” Twilight carefully laid the small wooden box on the table. “I also should return this.” Sweetie’s notebook floated up to them. “I added a couple of spells to it... it was very interesting to study! We have very different Spell Matrix designs in this universe, but it was easy enough to include what I wanted.”

Sweetie looked at her notebook. “So... what’s different now?”

“I included a spell that lets you ‘record’ your voice into the page, and another to allow you to have more pages included.” Twilight said with a proud smile. “That way you don’t have to worry about running out of space when taking notes!”

Sweetie smiled as she opened the book. Three pages were completely white except for a large G-clef on them. She looked at Twilight quizzically.

“That’s what happens when you record a song in there,” Twilight explained. “The page cannot be used again. All you have to do to play the music is press your horn against the note and it will play.”

Sweetie hugged Twilight. “Thank you... I don’t know how to tell you how much this means to me...”

“You already have, my student,” Twilight smiled into Sweetie’s mane. “Take care of yourself, and never stop learning.”

“I will...” Sweetie stepped back. “I promise.”

Twilight nodded and walked out of the library, leaving the sisters alone.

“I will miss you so much, Sweetie.” Rarity said, looking down. “But I won’t be the same as I was... I am stronger now, and it’s in no small measure thanks to you.”

“Me?” Sweetie blinked.

Rarity nodded. “Your stay here, although short, brought back a lot of memories... all of them good and dear to my heart. I realized a long time ago that what I did when you died was stupid... but even so, I’ve clung to my work and hidden behind my friend’s lives, living through Fluttershy, Applejack and Pinkie... thanks to you... I think I can finally close that chapter of my life and move forward.”

Sweetie smiled. “Are you going to go look for a coltfriend now?”

Rarity laughed as she warmly embraced her sister. “I just might,” she sniffed. “I just might.”

“Thank you for everything, sis,” Sweetie Belle murmured into her sister’s mane. “I love you.”

Rarity closed her eyes, letting a few tears slip out as she buried herself deeper into the embrace. “And I love you, Sweetie. Always.”

Sniffing, Sweetie stepped back, her horn alight with magic. First she slipped the picture she had found into her notebook, then let it pop out of existence. She then levitated the purple fragment up to her. She closed her eyes and let herself merge with it.

“Sweetie?” Twilight’s voice echoed in the darkness.

“I’m here, Twi... I’m trying to get you back together.”

“I’ve been here a long time, waiting for you...”

“I know,” Sweetie said. “Two hundred years... sorry I’m so late.”

“Oh no, I learned a lot from myself!” Twi’s voice chuckled. “Let’s go home.”

Rarity watched as her sister’s form slowly turned into motes of light that spiraled around each other. Her body trembled as tears formed in her eyes.

“I’m sorry I did what I did!” she suddenly said, a bit desperately at the fading unicorn. “I love you so much, Sweetie! I thought I couldn’t live without you! I’ll never make you sad again! I’ll never do something so stupid! I will always remember you and I know now that in many other places you live on, having adventures! I’ll never let myself

Startled, Sweetie opened her eyes as the motes of light almost completely dispersed. She smiled and mouthed two, simple words.

I know.

o.0.o

The first thing Sweetie noticed was the sound of a shower running. She opened her eyes and immediately recognized the shower in Carousel Boutique.

So, another world... she sighed. Well, it seems that the ‘me’ from here was about to take a shower... might as well finish doing it... I haven’t taken one since Nightmare Moon got my mane all sticky.

Sweetie walked up to the curtain and opened it. She stared at the mirror. That’s odd. We didn’t have a mirror inside the shower back home. This is... different.

She stared at her reflection. There was something odd about it. She seemed to have a slightly different build in this world. She blinked. My mirror self’s hair is wet... her eyes widened. Mirror images don’t get wet!

Sweetie took a step back, just as the colt in the shower did too, slipped and fell on his rump. They stared at each other.

“Oh Celestia...”

“Oh Solaris...”

“A COLT!”

“A FILLY!”

A soft knock on the door made them turn away from each other and look towards the entrance. A soft male voice could be heard above the din of the shower.

“Silver? I heard you shout! Is everything okay?”

o.0.o End Chapter 3 o.0.o

A/N: You can read it here.

Wagon Wheel” By Old Crow Medicine Show

Heart’s Lament” Lyrics by Trevor

Next chapter: On A Cross and Arrow